Objectives To investigate the nutritional quality of foods marketed to children in the UK and to explore the use of health and nutrition claims.
Design This cross-sectional study was carried out in a wide range of UK food retailers. Products marketed to children above the age of 1 year containing any of a range of child friendly themes (i.e. cartoons, toys and promotions), and terms suggesting a nutritious or healthy attribute such as ‘one of 5-a-day’, on product packaging were identified both in stores and online. Information on sugar, salt and fat content, as well as health and nutrition claims, was recorded. The Ofcom nutrient profiling model (NPM) was used to assess if products were healthy.
Results Three hundred and thirty-two products, including breakfast cereals, fruit snacks, fruit-based drinks, dairy products and ready meals, were sampled. The use of cartoon characters (91.6%), nutrition claims (41.6%) and health claims (19.6%) was a common marketing technique. The one of 5-a-day claim was also common (41.6%), but 75.4% (103) of products which made this claim were made up of less than 80 g of fruit and vegetables. Sugar content (mean±SD per 100 g) was high in fruit snacks (48.4±16.2 g), cereal bars (28.9±7.5 g) and cereals (22.9±8.0 g). Overall, 41.0% of the products were classified as less healthy according to the Ofcom NPM.
Conclusion A large proportion of products marketed to children through product packaging are less healthy, and claims used on product packaging are confusing. Uniform guidance would avoid confusion on nutritional quality of many popular foods.
- food labelling
- fruit and vegetable
- child health
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Contributors ALG conceived and designed the study, supervised the data collection, contributed to data analysis and write-up, and is the overall guarantor of the study. GM-S contributed to data collection, data entry and manuscript writing. AP contributed to manuscript writing. ANM contributed to data entry and analysis, and drafted the manuscript.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.